Supervisor Success: Keys to Transitioning from All-Star Player to Hall of Fame Coach

Nebraska football coach Bo Pelini won a lot of games at Nebraska. His record? An honorable 67-27. But, even a win this Friday against Iowa wasn’t enough to save his job.

It’s not easy being supervisor. There’s a big difference between knowing how to play the game and knowing how to coach it.

Bo Pelini knew how to play football. He was free safety for the Buckeyes at Ohio State under College Football Hall of Fame head coaches Earle Bruce and John Cooper from 1987 to 1990. Not only did Pelini start in his last two years, he also served as a team co-captain in his senior year, along with some of football’s finest, Vinnie Clark, Jeff Graham and Greg Frey.

Although hardwork, hustle, and know-how do not necessarily translate to expert coaching, Pelini did have an equally successful career as a National Football League (NFL) scout and coach.

In 1994, Pelini earned his first position in the NFL as a scouting assistant for the San Francisco 49ers head coach George Seifert. Once there, he was quickly promoted to assistant secondary coach, and by the spring of 1994 he was promoted to defensive backs coach (source). In 1995, he helped coach in his first Super Bowl where the 49ers defeated the San Diego Chargers 49–26 in Super Bowl XXIX.

But just as sun and snow are polar opposites, the success of Pelini’s program in warm San Diego looked nothing like his experience in wintry Nebraska.

So, now Nebraska is on the market for a new defensive coordinator. Luckily, they are at no loss for choices.

Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldmanpredicts a few candidates: One, Oregon offensive coordinator Scott Frost, a former Nebraska QB. According to Feldman:

“Frost would fire up a fan base, as he is one of their own (he was even born in Lincoln), while also representing a return to not only the Tom Osborne era of a dominant rushing attack, but it’d be one souped-up thanks to all his time working with Chip Kelly, who is right now the hottest coaching brand in all of football—not just for his offense but for his entire innovative approach to all facets of the game.”

In fact, a few of Feldman’s choices, like Minnesota’s Jerry Kill and Wyoming’s Craig Bohl, come from a climate and style similar to that of Nebraska.

Because when it comes to tricky supervisory transitions, culture and climate play a large role.

Law firm management is just as touchy as coaching football. There are high stakes, you have to manage the players’ egos, and clients can be fair-weather fans.

Bo Pelini serves as a great example for law firm managers of what challenges lay in the wake of a promotion. A newly hired or promoted supervisor must:

  • Make the transition from team player to take-charge leader
  • Improve performance in people who aren’t used to you being the boss
  • Avoid common mistakes and problems that sabotage new supervisors (like being too strict or too lax)
  • Handle even the most difficult employee conversations and situations, even firings

One thing is for sure. Whoever takes Pelini’s place will have a plan preparing for this transition. Whether it’s a meet-and-greet session, strict diet and training regimen, or tough-love approach starting from the first huddle.

Law firm managers should do the same. Decide what kind of attitude is most effective. Be prepared for tough conversations, including talking notes for how to approach them. Set goals for employees and decide how to communicate them.

Finally, it’s important to know how to motivate your team—and it won’t be a one-size-fits-all approach.

Seen from the outside, Pelini’s record is respectable. But, when the going got tough, Pelini’s program didn’t get going. His record is only 9-16 against Top-25 opponents, and—worse still—only 2-8 in his last 10 games against ranked teams.

It’s when pressure was building and the stakes were at their highest that Nebraska folded. And, yes, the boss gets the blame.

It’s tough to be supervisor. So, make a game plan.

Need help? Here’s a start. The Center For Competitive Management’s audio course “New Supervisor Success: Keys to Transitioning from All-Star Player to Hall of Fame Coach.”

During this power-packed event, you will explore the most important aspects of your multi-faceted supervisor role, and learn key techniques and practices to help you better delegate, motivate, plan, and coach employees for success.

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